Review: Midnight Duet

Recap: A playful, more sexually-charged and less violent play on The Phantom of the Opera, The Midnight Duet is a modern telling of an opera house owner, tormented by a dark past and deformed face who falls deeply in love with a singer. Midnight Duet is a like Phantom meets Fifty Shades of Grey. The characters in Phantom are all updated here; Erik becomes Erika, a woman who has left Broadway after a chandelier fell on her face (also a direct reference to Phantom) and escapes to Paris, Nevada to manage her family’s old opera house that remains there but in bad shape. Christine in Phantom becomes Christof, the lead singer and manager of a German metal rock band, which stays at the opera house in Paris to workshop their a new album, inspired by America. Raoul remains Raoul in Duets, and attempts to buy Erika’s opera house from her.

When Christof requests that his band stay at the opera house, initially Erika sees dollar signs. She is broke and barely able to pay her debts on the building, so she is happy to oblige and let the band stay there for a high price. What she doesn’t expect is to fall madly in love with the band’s lead singer, Christof. In this modern re-telling of Phantom, however, the feelings are very much mutual. Christof’s ex-girlfriend had recently quit the band as a keyboardist and moved on with a new lover, so Christof finally lets go and allows himself to indulge in Erika. The two have a lustful and detailed, steamy affair that ultimately turns out to be true love.

But the state of the theater is still in shambles. Erika receives an offer from Raoul, a hotel manager in Las Vegas, to buy it outright and offers Erika the opportunity to perform there regularly. But as a former Broadway star, Erika doesn’t want to be relegated to performing covers in a theater that no one visits when her dream is to be a true star. She also wants to continue to own the theater out of respect to the history of her family. When Christof’s ex comes back to return to both the band and a relationship with Christof, the “what are we going to do?” questions get tangled in a web of love, allegiance, commitment, legacy and confusion.

Analysis: I’ll admit it. Midnight Duets is a little hokey. Some of the writing is a little cheesy, particularly the ways Erika and Christof lustfully describe each other. Do people really talk like that? And some plot details made me question how modern this story really was supposed to be: after all, metal bands? How is this band popular in 2023? Are we sure it’s not 1983? Erika’s love for her pet rats kind of freaked me out and seemed a little overdramatic at the climax (no spoilers, I promise!). But I will also say this: it’s a fun, light read.

As silly as some parts were, the sex scenes are intense and sexy, and I was gripped by the story of the opera house itself and what Erika would do to keep it open. I wish I knew a little more about why she felt such an allegiance to it. In the beginning of the book, Erika is a self-described “bad person,” who doesn’t speak fondly of the opera house. She feels stuck there. She had nowhere to go and nothing to do after her accident and injury left her jobless on Broadway, so I would have liked to hear more about why she so passionately wanted to save the theater.

As cheesy as their relationship was, I did love Erika and Christof and their gothic, dark relationship. They were clearly meant for each other and played into both each other’s fantasies and ideals of what a romantic partner should be. Overall, it was a fun, light read that kept me quickly turning pages.

MVP: Erika. She goes through a lot of growth in this story as she sets out on a mission to become an overall better, kinder person. She also does it while staying authentically true to herself: dark, twisty, direct with others and confident. When she ultimately performs with her scars showing, it’s clear she has undergone an emotional upgrade.

You can buy Midnight Duet in paperback for $9.98.

Or on you Kindle for free!

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Review: Fairy Tale

Recap: Charlie Reade is 17 years old and living in Illinois. He’s a teenager who has seen some serious trauma. His mom died when he was young, leading to his father’s long battle with alcoholism. But Charlie has figured out his life a bit. His dad is clean and sober, and Charlie is a star on the football team. Everything changes when one day, he happens to hear a man screaming near the creepy, old house in his neighborhood. It turns out Howard Bowditch has fallen and hurt himself. Charlie calls an ambulance to get Mr. Bowditch some help. As Mr. Bowditch heads to the hospital, Charlie takes on the responsibility of caring for Mr. Bowditch’s dog, Radar.

The first act of the becomes is a beautiful story of boy befriending dog followed by boy befriending dog’s crotchety, old owner. Charlie essentially gives up his entire life, quitting the football team and spending nights at Mr. Bowditch’s house to nurse him back to health and take care of Radar, who’s also nearing the end of his old dog life. But glimpses of fantasy start to creep in. Mr. Bowditch tasks Charlie with errands, like turning in hundreds of pellets of gold for cash to pay for his hospital bills. And the enormous creature in Mr. Bowditch’s shed that he kills one day.

When Mr. Bowditch eventually dies of a heart attack, Charlie listens to a tape from him that explains Mr. Bowditch is actually 120 years old and that his shed is a portal to another world, lying underground. He encourages Charlie to go there because it has a sundial that can turn back time and add years to your life, giving Charlie the opportunity to make Radar a young pup again.

Most of the rest of the novel takes place in the alternate world. A lot of time passes as Charlie learns more about Mr. Bowditch and commits to not only saving Radar but also saving the princess and all the “gray” people he meets. Charlie is on a mission to redeem himself for some of his young teen discretions, and in this fantasy coming-of-age novel, does exactly that.

Analysis: Stephen King takes this moment to write a story that doesn’t employ all of his usual storytelling factors. The story doesn’t take place in Maine. It’s not horror. And it has a pretty happy ending. (Actually, the epilogue is pretty awesome and satisfying.) Fairy Tale is a fun mix of genres, including a coming-of-age story with fantasy and fairy tales with a modern teen twist. It does become a little disjointed, however, due at least in part to its length and lead character, Charlie.

The book is 600 pages, which is fairly standard for King. The story is epic, so I can understand him wanting to keep the book long to parallel that epic-feeling, to beat into the reader that yes, this character is really going on a huge, life-changing journey. But somewhere halfway through the book, the first act with Mr. Bowditch starts to feel like it was an entirely separate story altogether. Although I personally loved the sweet story of Charlie and Mr. Bowditch, it’s really a precursor to the true story, which unfortunately doesn’t start until about 200 pages in. By that point, so much reality has been established that I found it hard to make the quick turn to pure fantasy. I found myself losing steam and speed reading just so I could get to the end with all the real feelings.

I also had a hard time understanding why Charlie would leave his father and entire world behind just for this dog that he’s known a few months. He keeps hinting at something “bad” he had done, and it’s clear that he’s on some sort of quest for salvation, but at the end, when the reader learns the bad thing he did, it didn’t really feel that bad. Therefore, his motivation for the entire journey doesn’t feel entirely unwarranted.

The writing is a little trite. While I enjoyed all the parallels and references to other already-existing fairy tales, I wish King wouldn’t have flat-out told us so many times. Part of the beauty of referencing other works is allowing the reader to find them and analyze them themselves. It’s less fun when the author is telling instead of showing.

But let’s be clear: it is a still a fun, fantastical story with a feel-good ending that made me smile. And I still liked it better than King’s Dolores Claiborne.

MVP: Charlie’s father. Though a pretty minor character, I loved the story of what he’s been through, what he overcame, and his reaction at the end of the book. He’s the hero for our story’s hero and sets an example for Charlie of the kind of man Charlie wants to and proves to be.

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Review: How To Do Nothing

Pretty ironic to take a year-and-a-half off from writing on this blog and then come back to restart it with a review of a book about doing nothing, huh? But alas, here we are. Yes, I’ve decided to hop back on the book review blogging train. After the birth of my daughter, many of my hobbies were put on pause for a while. That was combined with a job that didn’t afford me much personal time. I’ve gotten a new job since then, and my daughter is older now. That means I’m reading more once again and excited to get back to blogging! Thanks for being on this fun ride with me.

So back to the book at hand. Unfortunately How To Do Nothing was nothing like I thought it would be. I had seen the book on the shelf of a friend’s house. The title, the cover, the explanation on the back all seemed like something that would interest me greatly, especially as I’m currently in a rather “minimalist” phase of life. In fact, this year my personal mantra for the year is “One Less,” meaning do one less thing as opposed to one more thing, which tends to be the state of my life.

This book initially spoke to me. After the initial chapters of the author explaining her deep dive into doing nothing, I quickly learned the book wouldn’t be quite what I thought. The subtitle is “Resisting the Attention Economy,” and as it turns out, the book’s content is extremely data and research-driven. It read more like one long published journal article rather than a book. The author is rather thorough and explains years worth of history about why people feel compelled to resist getting sucked up by our rather corporate world that prides itself on productivity. She then explains why it often hardly works, and how people have repeatedly failed at creating safe havens from the real world, even including hippies in their communes.

Don’t get me wrong: some of the information the author shares is fascinating. She also talks about her own personal journey with doing less, including her newfound love of bird-watching as she’s made it a point to pay more attention to the world around her and go on walks in nature. But if you’re looking for a book that will offer tangible things to incorporate into your life to do nothing, this is not the book. The book often went above my head, becoming very esoteric and philosophical with long sentences and SAT words that made it hard to follow. At a certain point, I gave up on following the thread and instead focused on finding small nuggets of gold that resonated with me.

Maybe then, the bigger issue is simply the title. How does one sell a book with the words “How To” in it and then not tell you how to do said thing?

Maybe you’d like to give it a go. How To Do Nothing is available in hardcover for $17.19.

And on Kindle for $11.99.

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Review: The Wonders of Walt Disney World

Recap: Part guidebook, part behind-the-scenes and part history book, The Wonders of Walt Disney World will make you want to run to Disney immediately. Maybe that’s why I waited to read until now when my family and I finally feel comfortable returning to the parks amid COVID-19. We put a pause on the parks for a year-and-a-half, during which I had no interest in reading and falling deeper in love with the parks. But now I’m back! And this book got me back in the mood to park hop.

Author Aaron Goldberg is chock full of knowledge of the parks – their history of construction and plans and also of each individual ride. When I go to Disney, I often ride the rides for the thrills and the views and don’t pay so much attention to the story of the ride. But Goldberg details each ride’s story, reeling the reader in with information they may have overlooked (which is easy to do, since Disney is such a hotbed of overstimulation!). The book is broken down park-by-park with some history, a virtual walkthrough of the parks and an overview of each ride. He’s even got you covered with spotting hidden Mickeys! Each chapter ends with a bullet point overview of each ride and restaurant in that park, complete with TripAdvisor ratings and advice on whether to Fastpass+ the ride.

Analysis: My husband, the Disney aficionado, read the book before me, and at first I was hesitant to read it like an actual book. If it’s just a guidebook, I figured, don’t you just flip through it for the sections you want or need help with? “No, no, no” my husband told me, and he was right. Goldberg’s detailed descriptions and enthusiasm for the parks made me feel like I was actually there. He got me excited to return to the parks and not only try out some rides, restaurants and experiences we had yet to do (after I read the Magic Kingdom chapter, we visited MK and saw the Country Bear Jamboree for the first time and ate one of the famous cinnamon buns from Gaston’s Tavern!), but also to revisit the things I’ve done a million times and see them in a new way. For instance, we rode the Tomorrowland Transit Authority PeopleMover and were able to spot some hidden Mickeys and see sections I’d missed in the past. The book is less of a tell-all and more of a feel-it-all way of experiencing the park.

The book is updated annually and rightfully so. The parks are constantly changing with new rides and restaurants. Most recently, they’ve announced a huge change as the parks move away from Fastpass+ and toward Lightning Lanes with the Genie+ service. For that reason, my book was a little outdated. I read the 2018 edition. So if you’re planning a trip, I recommend reading the latest edition and highlighting so you know what and where you want to go.

Get The Wonders of Walt Disney in paperback for $13.89.

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Review: Fahrenheit 451

Recap: In a world full of screens, read a book. That’s just one part of the many layers of themes in the classic Ray Bradbury novel from 1953. In Bradbury’s future dystopian world of Fahrenheit, books are for burning and screens are for living. Guy Montag is a fireman, but in this world, firemen don’t put out fires. They start them. They burn down the homes of any person found to still have books inside. Books signify intellect and intellect signifies power. In an effort to tamp down that power, the society has decided to make books illegal. Each home instead has a parlor with four walls of screens.

When Montag meets a young, beautiful woman named Clarisse, she introduces him to the concept of learning, having an open mind, being different and following your own path. They meet regularly to talk and then she goes missing. It is around this time that Montag and his coworkers go to burn a woman’s house. She refuses to leave and instead opts to “go down with the ship,” if you will and die burning alive with her books. But not before Montag steals one of her books for himself.

And so sparks Montag setting off on his own individual path: a path that seeks out books, a path where he begins to question his wife, Mildred, and her friends, a path where he begins to take risks against his boss, Beatty. It’s a path that leads to a different kind of fire. Not that of an individual home, but that of the whole goddamn world.

Analysis: What can I write about this classic novel that hasn’t already been written? I can’t even seem to find the words to explain the story without fully giving every detail away. But here’s what you need to know: the dystopian “future” imagined by Ray Bradbury in 1953 is so eerily similar to our very real present, it’s frightening. Each house in the book has a parlor that consists of four walls of screens, and the characters feel like the people on the screens are their friends…TikTok anyone?

The world in which Montag lives is a weird where people are so consumed with consuming, so consumed with technology and screens that humans have forgotten how to feel and interact. When Montag reads a poem to his wife and her friends, one of them starts crying. But because she has never had such a visceral reaction to a poem (or any kind of literature), she doesn’t know what to make of it and instead the other women become angry with Montag. When they talk about their children, they mention how they “put up with them” when the children come home from school just three days a month. “You heave them into the ‘parlor’ and turn the switch. It’s like washing clothes; stuff laundry in and slam the lid…They’d just as soon kick as kiss me.”

As the story continues, it becomes clearer and clearer to both the reader and Montag that something has to change and Montag becomes that spark. Without even fully realizing it, he becomes set on saving books and changing people’s minds. He is pushed and manipulated by his boss, Beatty, who – when quoting literature – makes it clear he is not only literate, but extremely intelligent. Is he pushing Montag to start a movement because he knows it’s the right thing to do and he actually agrees with Montag about how dark society has become? Or is he just a villain, looking for an excuse to get under the skin of a rebel? It’s hard to know. Whatever his reasoning, his tactics are effective and Montag advances to a new future in a new city.

MVP: Beatty. He is awful. He is cruel. He is manipulative. But he knows exactly what he is doing. He is smart as hell. And I like to think that he’s secretly one of the good guys, one of the guys who agrees that society needs a huge overhaul. He may not have been courageous enough to start a revolution himself, but at least he pushed someone else to.

Get Fahrenheit 451 in paperback for $8.29.

Or on your Kindle for $12.99.

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Review: The House of Mirth

Recap: Lily Bart is a beautiful girl, waiting for a train at Grand Central Station when she runs into her friend, Selden. They unexpectedly spend much of the afternoon together before she visits a friend’s country home. So sets up the on-and-off, back-and-forth relationship between Lily and Selden and the impulsivity of Lily Bart. Lily is 29 and has been available and looking for marriage for years now. She is decidedly undecided in her desire to marry for love versus marrying for wealth and status.

Much of her time revolves around wealth and status. She has gambled away much of her money, and she didn’t have much to start. On her trip to see friends in Bellomont, she fails to become engaged to the person her friends are trying to set her up with and she loses even more of her money via games of bridge. That’s when Gus, her friend’s husband, offers her financial help. He makes some investments on her behalf, offering her checks. Suddenly Lily is able to afford the flashier clothing and appear remarkably rich. But Gus also begins to expect a romantic relationship in return. Knowing she cannot betray her friend – and God forbid, what will society think of her? – Lily makes it a point to pay back Gus every cent he’s given her.

But the journey proves difficult, as her reputation continues to crumble, money is not flowing and her prospects for a husband remain limited.

Analysis: The House of Mirth is an example of what Edith Wharton does best, combining the themes of class, gender roles, reputation and wealth. In early 1900s New York where appearances are everything, Lily Bart is flailing. She is trying so hard that it’s too hard, and though beautiful and smart, she just can’t seem to get herself out of the hole. She is a true damsel in distress. The entire concept of the book – and of LIFE!!- I believe is summarized in this single exchange between Lily and Selden.

Selden pushed his hat back and took a side-glance at her. “Success — what is success? I shall be interested to have your definition.”

“Success?” She hesitated. “Why, to get as much as one can out of life, I suppose. It’s a relative quality, after all. Isn’t that your idea of it?”

“My idea of it? God forbid!” He sat up with sudden energy, resting his elbows on his knees and staring out upon the mellow fields. “My idea of success,” he said, “is personal freedom.”

“Freedom? Freedom from worries?”

“From everything — from money, from poverty, from ease and anxiety, from all the material accidents. To keep a kind of republic of the spirit — that’s what I call success.”

To Lily, success is excess, holding onto everything. To Selden, success is letting go of it all. Lily’s grasping for more is her downfall, and just as she learns to live with less, the world has other plans.

MVP: Lily. She is not always the most likeable, but she keeps trying. And though she could not escape tragedy, she at least kept trying. She grows and evolves, despite the way things play out around her.

Buy The House of Mirth in paperback for $7.99.

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Review: Chicken Soup for the Expectant Mother’s Soul

Oh my, it feels like it’s been 100 years since I’ve read a Chicken Soup for the Soul book. They were all the rage in the 90’s! And I read so many of them as a teenager. So as an expectant mother myself, when I received this book as a gift, I was excited to crack it open and step into the nostalgia for the series and read some great stories about pregnancy, delivery and children.

It mostly lived up to the hype! There were some great emotional stories that brought me near tears, cute cartoons and funny stories that I read out loud to my husband. The book includes a pretty wide variety of real-life stories from those with infertility issues, those who adopted, those who delivered early and those who delivered late. Considering the book is now more than 20 years old (!!), it did feel a bit dated in its diversity. If it were to be published in 2021 for instance, I would expect there to be more inclusive stories of gay couples or interracial couples having children. But I understand that in 2000, those kinds of stories were not likely to be included.

I also was surprised to find that there were no “celebrity” entries. At some point as I was reading, I remembered many of the Chicken Soup books of yesteryear promoted the stories by “famous” people on the front cover. It was always exciting when you’d come across an entry from Maya Angelou or Garry Marshall.

I also remember feeling the stories were better written back in the day and cut to the heart a little more. But that also may be because I was a teenager when I was reading those books and not as well versed in good writing. It’s hard to come across profoundly gut-wrenching writing when the stories are submitted by amateurs.

Truly though, that does not detract from the stories and content itself! Reading the book made me grateful for the relatively easy and healthy pregnancy I’ve had, hopeful – and a little nervous! – for delivery and excited to be a mother.

Get Chicken Soup for the Expectant Mother’s Soul in paperback for $15.59.

Or on your Kindle for $9.99.

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Movie vs. Book: To All the Boys: Always and Forever

In their senior year of high school, Lara Jean and Peter Kavinsky are still together and have been going strong for more than a year now. There are no other people interfering in their relationship, but there is one thing that is: college. They have a plan to go away to school together. But as we all know, God laughs as we make our little plans.

In a shocking (or maybe not-so-shocking) twist of events, Lara Jean learns that despite her phenomenal grades and extra-curriculars, she is rejected by the very school that has accepted Peter and offered him a lacrosse scholarship. Initially they are devastated until they devise a new plan: Lara Jean will go to the school where she was accepted and then transfer to Peter’s school sophomore year. But Lara Jean continues to hear the voice of her mother and older sister in her head, telling her never to follow a boy to school. She is torn. And the more she learns about the school where she’s been accepted, the more she falls in love with it, especially after a whirlwind visit there solidifies things.

She keeps all of these feelings a secret from Peter, but he senses it. He separates himself from her, distancing just as prom approaches – as well as Lara Jean’s father’s second wedding – and everything erupts.

It’s a typical high school love story and it checks all the boxes. College! Prom! Senior trip! Wedding! And yet, those tropes work for a reason. Whether you’re currently in high school or an adult looking back at it, you know how big those moments feel as a teenager. Everything is at a monumental magnitude when you’re young – and especially young and in love. Those big moments lend themselves to big feelings, and it’s hard not to understand how both Peter and Lara Jean are feeling about everything going on.

The movie takes some liberties from the book to dramatize the situation even more. The book takes place in Virginia, so Peter is going to UVA, which rejected Lara Jean. Lara Jean plans instead to go to William & Mary. The schools are only a few hours away, which is truly doable even if they stayed long distance for the duration of college. But in the movie, they live in California. So Peter is going to Stanford, while Lara Jean is going to NYU on the other side of the country. Clearly the distance feels far more insurmountable.

The book also includes a section in which Lara Jean’s friend from the nursing home, Stormy, dies. At her funeral, she learns that John Ambrose (from the previous To All the Boys novel) is going to William & Mary, further complicating Peter’s feelings about Lara Jean going there. This is cut from the movie, which is probably for the best. It would be kind of a downer to have a funeral scene dropped in the middle of the movie, not to mention an unnecessary appearance from John Ambrose when Lara Jean clearly loves Peter.

Both movie and book end the same way, which is to say I WON’T SPOIL IT, but Lara Jean and Peter get to have it both ways, no matter how implausible it may seem. The only difference is that in the movie, Lara Jean and Peter ultimately have sex. They do not in the novel, but that never made sense to me. I know the novel is YA, and maybe the author was trying to be PC about it. Not to mention, Lara Jean has always been written as a character who is nervous to do things sexually. But not with Peter. And after more than a year of dating as they’re about to graduate, I don’t many high schoolers who wouldn’t have sex at that point.

Both the book and movie are truly satisfying and much more emotional, fun, full circle and impactful than the second book/movie in the series. What started out as a great premise in To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before is really tied up in a beautiful bow in Always and Forever, Lara Jean.

Get Always and Forever, Lara Jean in paperback for $5.99.

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Review: Natural Disaster: I Cover Them. I Am One.

Recap: Ginger Zee is one of the most recognizable faces in TV news. As the chief meteorologist for ABC News, she appears daily on Good Morning America, travels the country to storm chase and deliver vitally important news about the weather and shares the details of her personal life on Instagram – complete with very adorable photos and videos of her two young sons.

But as she describes in her memoir, it took a while and a windy road for her to get this point. She worked in small markets, wore flip flops her first time on-air and wasn’t entirely sure how to write a script. She dated men who were horrible for her, broke off an engagement and suffered from verbal and emotional abuse. She tried to commit suicide and ultimately checked herself into a facility to get help. All of this was going on “behind the scenes” as she climbs the professional ladder, eventually making it to New York.

She is so delightfully adorable on-air and on social media that it’s hard for viewers to consider the many layers of anxiety and depression that she has managed over the years. And that is exactly why she wrote the book – to show the way things appear on the outside aren’t always the way they appear inside. This book is a thorough study on that, and an encouraging look at what can happen when you recognize the problems in your life and finally decide to get help.

Analysis: Ginger Zee’s story is powerful and necessary to be heard. Especially by young women – in any industry. But as a TV news person myself, I was also enraptured with her tales of job interviews, TV mishaps and ABC Network travels and assignments.

As much as I love her as a person and her anecdotes and found her story to be captivating, the writing itself could have used some work. The Natural Disaster title works perfectly as a representation of what she does for a living and how she describes herself, but the metaphor is used repeatedly throughout the book, to the point where I felt like I was being beat over the head with it. At times, I also found the book confusing in terms of time jumps. There were a few chapters that would go in chronological order and then she would write something like “But wait, let’s go back because this was also happening that entire time.” Maybe she was going for a little whiplash action in her writing just as she felt she was experiencing in her life, and just as one would experience in a real natural disaster. Either way, I sometimes got a little lost keeping track of what happened when because of those time jumps.

All that said, Ginger Zee has a voice and she’s using it to talk about big topics that MATTER. And there’s nothing more that I can do except respect and thank her for that.

Get Natural Disaster in paperback for $16.99.

Or on your Kindle for $14.99.

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Show vs. Book: Little Fires Everywhere

It’s 1997-1998 in Shaker Heights, Ohio. It’s an upper middle class community that upholds the belief that anti-racism is equivalent to colorblindness. That’s where we meet the Richardsons, a white, wealthy family: Bill and Elena and their four children, Lexie, Trip, Moody and Izzy. It’s also where we meet the Warrens, a lower-class family made up of a single mother and her daughter, Mia and Pearl. Elena rents her rental home to Mia and Pearl. That’s how Pearl meets Mood. The two are the same age and quickly become good friends.

The two families begin to intertwine as Mia starts working as a housekeeper for the Richardsons to make a little extra cash and keep her eye on Pearl, who is wooed by the wealth and status of the Richardsons and spends much of her time at their home. As Pearl warms up to Elena, badly wanting that life, so too does Izzy warm up to Mia. Izzy is the black sheep of the Richardson family, the one the others don’t seem to understand. She comes to love Mia and her life and career as an artist and begins to spend time with her as an apprentice.

Another side job of Mia’s is a waitressing job at a Chinese restaurant, where she becomes friendly with her co-worker Bebe Chow. Bebe gave up her baby daughter when she was an infant and left her outside a firehouse. Mia later puts two-and-two together and discovers that Bebe’s daughter has since been adopted by friends of the Richardsons. The intertwining of the Richardsons and Warrens becomes mangled as Mia helps Bebe in a legal battle to win her daughter back from Elena’s good friend. And there is just as much intermingling and mangling happening between Pearl and the Richardson brood.

There are figurative fires sparking everywhere throughout the book, in Mia’s backstory, in Lexie’s current story and so on and so on. They all erupt in a literal fire engulfing the Richardsons’ home, which is used as a framing device bookending the story.

The show takes the bones of the book and portrays all this excellently onscreen with the talent of Reese Witherspoon as Elena Richardson and Kerry Washington as Mia Warren. (Not to mention the phenomenal kids who play the teenaged children.) But the show makes some serious changes, and I actually think most are for the better.

The book is not bad. In fact, it’s freaking great. Its themes around race are centered on Bebe Chow and how she is treated in the justice system as a poor Asian woman compared to the rich, white people. The TV series on Hulu, however, takes race a huge step further by making the Warrens black. Mia and Pearl are never explicitly said to be black in the novel. The mention of Pearl’s frizzy hair is as close as the author gets. By making them black, many more stories lines explicitly touch on race in the series, broadening the themes of the novel beyond wealth and socioeconomic status. The series came out a few months before the death of George Floyd, so it’s impossible to have known how much the series would resonate now, in retrospect, but it certainly does.

In terms of plot, the series adds a lot more backstory for Elena and a few more subplots between the children – which also touch on race. But the biggest change the series makes is the way it unravels all of the secrets the characters are keeping: about abortions, lovers, postpartum depression, childbearing, finances. In the book, many of the secrets remain just that: secrets. While a handful of characters escape Shaker Heights at the end of the novel, so many things are left undiscussed and unaddressed. We, the readers, are left to assume whether or not those conversations ever happen. In the TV series, however, no one can keep their mouth shut! The secrets not only come out but are hurled at other characters like giant fireballs across a room, only building the deep-seeded rage between several people and leading to even more outlandish actions.

When it comes to the massive, literal fire at the end (and technically beginning) of the story, it’s clear in the series that there is a handful of people involved in setting it. It takes the entire series to finally bond these characters together, and when they comes together in a spiteful act of arsonistic rage, it is ridiculously satisfying in a way that the ending of the book isn’t.

Get Little Fires Everywhere in paperback for $8.67.

Or on your Kindle for $9.99.

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